The Aceh Project

In 2014, the most comprehensive codification of Islamic Criminal Law took place in Aceh, Indonesia. See how the new law reshape and redefine criminal law in the region.

Introduction

The promulgation of Aceh Qanun Number 6 of 2014 on Jinayat Law, or commonly known as Aceh Qanun Jinayat, marks a significant development of Islam’s long history in the region. After decades of contention rife with conflicts and bloodshed between the Acehnese local political power with the Indonesian central government, this is the first time that Islamic criminal law is formally codified complete with its accompanying procedural law (Aceh Qanun Number 7 of 2013). The repercussions of this law are manifolds. The law introduces numerous new Islam inspired criminal offences and forms of punishments previously unrecognized under Indonesia national criminal justice system such as public lashing. It transforms the religious courts (Pengadilan Agama) in the region previously mandated only to handle personal matters of Muslims in cases such as divorce and inheritance, to courts that also adjudicate Islamic criminal cases (Mahkamah Syar’iyah). Ultimately, Aceh Qanun Jinayat emerges as the latest Islamic law development in the modern era that straddles between classical Islamic criminal law that it claims to implement and the Indonesian criminal justice system that precedes it.


Given the exhaustive and sweeping changes that the law introduces, analyzing Aceh Qanun Jinayat as a whole is challenging. With more than thirty new types of criminal offences and specific evidentiary rules that come with it, few are able to get neither the larger picture of its implementation nor a more in-depth analysis of the law. This is mainly due to the difficulty of accessing court records, which remain challenging to collect and analyze despite their availability online. The result is a fragmented body of knowledge on the law whereby Aceh Qanun Jinayat is occasionally brought up when a high-profile public lashing is carried out.


The Aceh Project aims at filling in this knowledge gap by collecting court records and media reports to produce statistical data and get a wider picture of how the system works and how it has affected the people it prosecutes. It also produces short in-depth blog posts looking at more specific and often overlooked cases based on the court documents to shed light on some of the less popular aspects of Aceh Qanun Jinayat that seem to be out of the public eye.

Criminal Offense and Punishment

Criminal offences promulgated in the Aceh Qanun Jinayat are divided into ten categories. Each category is further specified into several offences totaling at 35 different crimes. Definitions provided in the list below are a direct translation of the definitions written in the general provisions of Aceh Qanun Jinayat (Aceh Qanun Jinayat 2014 Article 1 point 1- 40). Important to note that in the implementation of Aceh Qanun Jinayat, the courts strictly use the definition written on the codified law which might differ from classical Islamic law. Hence, one must be cautious as not to assume that these Arabic sounding words mean the same as understood by Arabic speakers or what has been commonly defined in classical Islamic law.

Types of punishment

There are two types of punishments prescribed in Aceh Qanun Jinayat, namely hudud and ta’zir punishment. It is important not to directly associate both of these terms with how classical Islamic law defines them. Like many other Arabic inspired terms in Aceh Qanun Jinayat, these two types of punishment are understood according to the general provisions of Aceh Qanun Jinayat (Article 1/18-19)

  1. Hudud: A type of punishment explicitly regulated in the Qanun regarding its form and severity. This punishment is fixed.  
  2. Ta’zir: A type of punishment regulated in the Qanun with an optional form of punishment and uses a spectrum (highest or lowest) in determining its severity. (flexible punishment)

Forms of Punishment

The Shari’a court judges have the sole authority to determine convicts’ punishments after pronouncing them guilty of the alleged crimes. There are three main punishments, namely, public lashing, the payment of fines, and imprisonment. We also found that judges sometimes prescribe punishments outside of the predetermined options to a convict because of his/her age or other considerations. In such cases, we have recorded that judges also prescribe punishment to return the convict to the family or put them in a government rehabilitation program.

Criminal offences and punishments

The Defendants and their Crime

The earliest defendants prosecuted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat recorded in the online case tracking system was in the second quarter of 2015 with eight cases across Aceh. Throughout the rest of that year, the number of people accused of violating Islamic criminal law did not exceed more than eleven cases in a year. However, this number soared more than fifteen times in the first quarter of 2016, which recorded more than 160 people prosecuted across Aceh. In total, 564 people were brought to the Shari’a courts across Aceh throughout 2016, the highest number of defendants recorded since the promulgation of Aceh Qanun Jinayat. Throughout 2017, at least 100 people were brought to the Shari’a District Courts across Aceh every quarter. The number fluctuates beginning in 2018, but the trend seems to fall below 100 defendants per quarter.

However, based on the data on public lashing execution in this project, there were 128 people lashed in 2015 signifying a drastic difference from data on the defendants in this section. This discrepancy is caused by the different data source used to gather both information. The number of defendants prosecuted per year is based on the online case tracking system managed collected from each Shari’a district court in Aceh. On the other hand, public lashing execution data is based on media reports. This difference in number means that not all defendants’ records have been included in the online case tracking system. The actual number of defendants in 2015 likely reached more than a hundred, as shown by the public lashing execution data. But we decided to maintain the number as currently presented to maintain a separate the data collection result. More on the methodology of this project see the corresponding section below.

As presented in the data below, an overwhelming number of defendants are prosecuted because they committed gambling. At least 980 people, up to half of the defendants since the enactment of the law, were charged with this crime. Defendants accused of violating the articles related to male and female physical relations are making up the second-highest violation category. These are crimes such as khalwat, ikhtilath, and zina, which amount to at least 469 defendants. These are the types of crime that will always involve two people of the opposite gender. The fact that the number of male and female defendants for these crimes is not far different means that the law targets equally between genders.

 

Important to note on this data is that this number does not connote actual public lashing executions of those pronounced guilty of their crime. The data source only provides the court proceeding leading up to the judges’ convictions. Once the court rule for a certain type punishment, including public lashing, the responsibility to execute the punishment shifts to the prosecutor’s office. Also, punishment in the form of public lashing is not carried out immediately following a conviction.  Convicts often have to wait several months in jail waiting for his/her turn to be publicly lashed with the others. See the public lashing execution section on this page to find out more.

There have been at least
1839 people prosecuted
under Aceh Qanun Jinayat

Verdict and Punishment

This section will show how the district Shari’a courts across Aceh have ruled for the defendants’ cases. By choosing one type of criminal offence on the drop-down menu, you will be presented with a list of regencies where the crime took place. It will also present the percentage of the defendants who are pronounced guilty or not guilty of their alleged crime. Lastly, it will show what types of punishment meted out by the court for the defendants.

By sorting through the conviction rate for each type of crime, it is noticeable that almost all crime types have a one hundred per cent conviction rate except for khalwat, rape, and zina, where one defendant was acquitted for each crime since 2015. Only two out of 979 defendants charged with alcohol consumption were pronounced not guilty by the Shari’a district courts. The one type of criminal offence with the lowest conviction rate is child sexual abuse, with ninety-one per cent conviction rate. Out of forty-six defendants of child rape, three were acquitted.

With regards to the forms punishment that the courts ruled, public lashing remains the preferred type of punishment for those convicted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat. In total, the Shari’a courts across Aceh punished 1663 people with public lashing. It is followed by imprisonment for 108 people, fines for 31 people, and 15 people being punished with public lashing and imprisonment. The courts also punish a small number of people by returning them to their family and rehabilitation, most probably because they are underage.

wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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wdt_ID Region Number of Defendants

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Public Lashing Execution

In total, at least 894 people have been publicly lashed based on our media monitoring. The data source indicates that 422 of them were male, 92 of them were female, and the gender of the rest of them (380 people) was not mentioned. This number is representing only half of the total people convicted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat as mentioned in the previous section. The difference in number of convicts and the public lashing execution stems from the fact that public lashing execution falls under the jurisdiction of the district prosecutor’s office, a judicial body separate from the Shari’a court. Unlike in the Shari’a courts where court proceeding documents are required to be made available to the public through the online case tracking system, the prosecutor’s office does not publish their data on public lashing. The data collected for this project is based on one media news outlet to avoid further mixing up and duplication of data. It is likely that the number of people who have been lashed are more than the data recorded in the project.

Since the enactment of Aceh Qanun Jinayat in 2014, hundreds of people have been lashed each year. In 2016, we saw the highest number of public lashing execution wherein a total of 252 people were lashed that year.

There have been at least 894 people publicly lashed across Aceh

Methodology

Since the enactment of both the substantive and procedural law in 2014 and 2013, we can trace a widespread implementation of Aceh Qanun Jinayat as early as June 2015. The Aceh Project aims to capture a comprehensive picture of how the Shari’a district courts across Aceh have implemented this law in the region. We seek to know how many people have been prosecuted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat and how the judges have adjudicated their cases. To achieve this objective, we use two different data sources: the Shari’a district court online case tracking system (Sistem Informasi Penelusuran Perkara/SIPP), and news articles from a local media outlet. 

SIPP provides valuable information to look at how each case has been progressing. Information such as the defendant’s gender, charges, evidence, verdicts, and sometimes even a lengthy explanation of the case is made available. However, the number of cases recorded in SIPP does not reflect the number of defendants because one case often charges more than one person. It is not uncommon for cases related to gambling and alcohol consumption that one case number represents the prosecution of more than ten people. Hence, we do not base the data collection for this research on the number of cases, but instead, we base it on the number of defendants brought to the Shari’a district courts as the first court of instance. We do this by sorting and reading each case entry on SIPP and extract each information one by one. 

Aside from the Shari’a district court in Sinabang regency, all Shari’a district courts have an online case tracking system with varying degrees of accessibility. At the time of the writing of this research, we have not compiled the data from three Shari’a district courts in Subulussalam City, Aceh Timur, and Aceh Barat Daya because the SIPP websites in those Shari’a district courts have just been made available recently. We have currently collected a dataset consisting of more than 2000 rows of defendants information from this data source. This dataset contains information such as case number, gender, charges, verdicts, and punishments. 

However, the online case tracking system does not provide information on the execution of public lashing. A guilty conviction does not guarantee the punishment’s immediate execution because convicts are publicly lashed in groups. Many often have to wait for months in prison waiting for other convicts to be lashed together with him/her. Because of that, we acquire the data on public lashing executions in all Shari’a district courts in Aceh by sorting through online news articles that report them. To avoid duplicates and maintain data accuracy, we only use one online news media to gather the information. Aceh Tribun News (https://aceh.tribunnews.com/indeks), also commonly known as Serambi Aceh, is one of the biggest and most prominent news outlets in Aceh. It is particularly beneficial for data collection because it has an online index of all of its news articles going back to 2010. We sorted through the online news index from 2015 to December 2019 and read each article on public lashing executions. Generally, an online news article will report on the number of people publicly lashed on one particular day. Information on the gender of the convicts is sometimes reported whereas information on what types of crime he/she has committed is almost never reported. 

There were two periods of data collection conducted for this research. The first period was between August 2018 to July 2019. The second data collection period was in September 2020. Between the one-year break when we stopped collecting the data, some of the online tracking systems previously accessible become inaccessible. Also, much of the case information from 2015-2016 seems to have been erased from the system in 2020. We were able to extract the data before it was erased from the system, but this shows that accessibility of the websites seems to be prone to changes. 

To access is the list of regencies/cities, their Shari’a district courts, and the SIPP links you can click here.

Acknowledgement

This project was funded through a series of grants from Harvard University, which allowed me to conduct fieldwork in Aceh and fund a team to help me collect court records. The first grant I received was the Harvard Divinity School’s Dean’s Summer Internship, which funded my first fieldwork in Aceh during summer 2017. For more or less three months, I worked with Solidaritas Perempuan Aceh, a local women’s rights organization, to campaign and advocate for women’s rights in the region. During this period, I attended the first public lashing of two gay men and advocated for a woman accused of khalwat. Upon graduating from Harvard Divinity School in May 2018, I received the Sinclair-Kennedy Traveling fellowship to continue my Aceh research for ten months. In this second visit to Aceh from 2018-2019, I worked extensively with LBH Banda Aceh (Banda Aceh Legal Aid Foundation) to further understand how Islamic criminal law is implemented in Aceh. 

I want to thank Prof. Dan McKanan and Prof. Jocelyne Cesari of Harvard Divinity School and Prof. Intisar Rabb at Harvard Law School. They have supported me in my research and provided recommendation during my grant applications. A special thanks also to my friends and colleagues in Aceh who have helped tremendously during my stay there especially the staff and volunteer at Solidaritas Perempuan, LBH Banda Aceh, and JMSPS (Jaringan Masyarakat Sipil Peduli Syariah).

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